One of my colleagues helped the mother of soldier Robert Thomson win her legal battle against the Ministry of Defence over his death when the trench he was working on collapsed on top of him at an army base in Basra in Iraq.
An Army board of inquiry blamed Sapper Thomson for the accident but the soldier’s mother refused to accept its decision and successfully sued the MoD in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, which covers all employees in this country, also applies to the armed forces.
The Ministry of Defence agreed it was their policy to apply UK health and safety standards and building site rules wherever they could. But they contested the court action insisting that Sapper Thomson's training would have taught him the dangers of trench digging and the possibility of a collapse.
Although the military enjoys ‘Immunity’ in regard to certain limited circumstances, the Court finding in favour of Sapper Thomson’s family vindicates the view that they can no longer shirk their obligations to troops in terms of Health and Safety, personal injury and civil law.
‘Combat Immunity,’ as it is called, applies only to the very limited situations the name suggests – in an actual combat situation. Sapper Thomson’s case serves to make it abundantly clear that there is no immunity from and no excuse for evading Health and Safety where an accident happens away from the battlefield.